The train rolled relentlessly into the Italian darkness, its wheels chattering rhythmically against the rails. There were fat peasants crowded everywhere, and skinny children, and seedy-looking businessmen and hordes of American GI's. There was a sad, musty smell in the train, like a house that hasn't been cleaned in years and years, and added to that the ripe smell of tired bodies, long unwashed, unkempt, unloved. Yet no one had thought to open a window. No one would dare. The old women would scream as though they had been assaulted, faced with a rush of the warm night air. That would have offended them. Everything upset them. Heat, cold, fatigue, hunger. They had reason to be disturbed. They were tired. They were sick. They had been hungry and cold and afraid for a long time. It had been one hell of a long war. And now it was over. For three months now. It was August 1945. And the train rolled on relentlessly as it had for two endless days.
Serena had boarded the train in Paris, and ridden, without speaking to anyone, across France and Switzerland, and at last into Italy. This was the last of her journey now … the last of it… the last of it.… The wheels of the train chattered out her thoughts as she lay huddled in a corner, her eyes closed, her face pressed against the glass. She was tired. God, she was tired. Every inch of her body ached now, even her arms, as she hugged them tightly around her, as though she were cold, which she was not. The heat on the train was stifling, her long blond hair felt matted against the back of her neck, as the train began to slow, and then a few moments later it stopped, and she sat there, without moving, wondering if she should get out and walk, even if only for a moment. She had been traveling now for almost nine days in all. It had been an endless journey, and she wasn't home yet.
She kept thinking of home, reminding herself of it over and over. She had forced herself not to let out a whoop of joy as they crossed the Alps and she knew that she was back in Italy at last. But this was only the beginning. In fact, she reminded herself again as she opened her eyes slowly in the glare of lights from the station, for her the journey hadn't even begun. It wouldn't begin until sometime the next morning, when she reached her destination, and then she would see, she would find out … at last.…
Serena unraveled herself sleepily, stretching her long graceful legs under the seat in front of her. Across were two old women, sleeping, a very thin one and a very fat one, with a scrawny child pressed between them, like a pathetic offering of pink meat between two loaves of old stale bread. Serena watched them expressionlessly. One could read nothing in her eyes, they looked like icy cold green pools of very fine emeralds, incredibly beautiful, but with very little warmth. But there was something about the depth of the young woman's eyes. One was drawn to them, as though one had to look into her, had to discover what she was thinking, as though one had to see inside her … and could not. The doors to Serena's soul were firmly shut, and there was nothing to see except the perfect precision of her finely carved aristocratic face. It had the translucence of white marble. Yet it was not a face one would have dared to touch. Despite her obvious youth and beauty, there was nothing inviting about her, nothing beckoning, nothing warm. She had surrounded herself with an aura of distance that carefully masked tenderness and vulnerability.
“Scusi.” She murmured the word softly as she tiptoed past the sleeping women and over an old man. She felt wretched sometimes for what she thought, but she was so tired of old people. She had seen nothing but old people since she had arrived. Was there no one else left, then? Only old women and old men, and a handful of children cavorting crazily everywhere, showing off for the GI's. They were the only young men one saw now. The Americans, in their drab uniforms, with their bright smiles and good teeth and shining eyes. Serena had seen enough of them to last a lifetime. She didn't give a damn whose side they were on.